Development Education in Portugal

Development Education

Historical, Social and Political Context

The subject is so new on these European shores that it is   difficult, if not impossible, to write a report on the situation of Development Education (DE) in Portugal.
Portugal's colonial period came to an end only in the mid 70s. In such a climate, an issue like cooperation with the Third World was not even thought of. Cooperation and Development began to be an issue on the public agenda only after the entry of Portugal into the European Community in 1985/86. Moreover, the scars left on the public conscience by the decolonisation process were not easily overcome. It is only since the early 90s that it has been possible to discuss openly the development of Third World countries.

It is important to note that Portugal is in a specific situation, but which is not unique in Europe. Under the former régime, Peace, or Peace Education, was an issue taken over by the Communists who, among others, fought against the régime. In other words, Peace Education did not have a good press. That is why, unlike what happened in other countries, militants, NGOs and educators wanting to take up DE could not lean on Peace Education as it is so natural to do.

However, this situation, which may have been a handicap, also made it possible to take up the issues with a less moralistic and more economical point of view.

It should be added that international organisations always had a rather minor place in the former Portugal. UNICEF was tolerated, UNESCO was censured and the United Nations were prohibited. (The dictatorship did not appreciate being condemned by the UN for its colonies - Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tomé and Cape Verde. ) So, over the decades, Portuguese public opinion had very little contact with hunger problems in the world, or with the work of the FAO, for example.

The Catholic Church, which is very dominant in Portugal, has not organised any movement at a national level, nor any fundraising, unlike in other countries. Portugal is one of the few European countries where no national Lenten campaign has ever been organised. That is why, in the early 90s, "all needed to be done; all could be done", as we might say.
It should be stressed that many of those who were members of Catholic organisations and campaigned against colonial war in the 60s and 70s now form the backbone of Portuguese NGOs working in DE.
It was in 1988 that the first public campaign on North-South relations was organised. With the help of some newborn NGOs, debates, seminars and exhibitions in five Portuguese towns were organised - Vila Real, Viseu, Amadora, Evora and Setubal. These initiatives made a very small impact on public opinion, and especially on the authorities, though they provoked an unexpected echo in some circles, particularly among cultural departments of local authorities. At that time, local power was being asserted politically and organised, so support could be obtained in places for the first `militant' DE activities.

Finally, it is notable that Human Rights issues were out of place in Portugal until the 25th April 1974 (the fall of the dictatorship and the emergence of a democratic régime), and that it took time for it to be accepted in education in general. So, just as with Peace Education, this issue was not a starting point for DE.

Development Education and the National Curriculum

Initially, politicians, journalists and Church people were not interested in DE. In fact, it is among teachers in general that the most interested and dynamic agents were found to launch this new path in Portuguese education.

Such a partition can be explained by different factors.. On the one hand, the big boom in compulsory schooling starting in the 80s (there was an increase from 6 years to 9 years compulsory schooling from 1986) attracted into the Ministry of Education a great number of very young professionals. These young teachers belonged to a generation which had not experienced colonial war, as most of them were still students at that time. Colonial traumas had not inhibited their interests.

The reform of the Portuguese education system created a big opportunity to launch a whole new process in national education. Indeed, in the same year -1986, Portugal entered the European Community and published the legal framework for the education system. Later, around 1989, a new syllabus was created on an experimental basis concerning personal and social development.

Thus, since the early 90s, many teachers of primary and secondary compulsory education have needed to retrain to prepare for the new syllabus. Additionally, the schools were invited to take greater pedagogical autonomy, both on curriculum content and on educational methods.
This gave a huge opportunity for those NGOs wishing to undertake DE. In fact, the authorities (the Ministry of Education and the State Secretary for Cooperation) had not taken any initiative on this issue until very recently, so NGOs occupied a terribly empty space.

NGDO-EC Liaison Committee: Development Education Group